“Superficial Changes”

“Superficial Changes” – Marco.org:

There are plenty of problems with the iOS app ecosystem, but most of them that Apple could reasonably control — and most of Jared’s specific complaints — are App Store-related, not OS-related.

The App Store team has a lot of work to do, and improving it must be a very low priority for Apple since it moves so minimally and glacially. It’s clear by their actions that Apple believes the App Store is mostly fine the way it is, which is sad, embarrassing, incorrect, and a huge strategic mistake.

I’ve seen this opinion a couple of times recently and I understand why developers feel that way, and I’m not arguing that it’s wrong.

I do think there’s a different reason for this, and I’d be willing to bet dinner it’s the reason so little innovation has happened on the app store recently.

The App Store is heavily tied to iTunes. iTunes is heavily tied to the online app stores. This code base is all based on what can only be called ancient code bases — the original iTunes and original music store and the original online store — which are big, heavy hunks of legacy code.

People have been calling for Apple to rearchitect iTunes for a long time. The online store infrastructures have gone from selling music and competing with MacMall to being these huge beasts with music, video, podcasts, TV, pay per view, 99 internationalized country variations… and almost a billion credit cards. Well beyond anything those code bases could have remotely considered possible, given they were written back when I was at Mama Apple.

So my guess is Apple’s been working on an entirely new next generation for all of this, but that’s one really huge hairy beast of a project. And the front end apps and web sites can’t ship until the back end is done, and the back end can’t be shipped until they data is migrated (and that data set is a huge hairy moving target), and…

And I wouldn’t be surprised if this is why the iCloud infrastructure has innovated so relatively slowly compared to Amazon and Google.

And — trust me — this is a rewrite from scratch, that existing code base can’t be tweaked to support what Apple needs here.

Add to that my view that IOS 7 was a relatively quick “all hands on deck” thing when ownership transitioned from Jobs to Ives, and that a bunch of resource was probably removed from other projects to make it happen — it wouldn’t surprise me that this “iTunes next generation” has been four or five years in and lost a year to the IOS 7 revamp.

This change is so tied to Apple’s web infrastructure and the innards of IOS and (to a somewhat lesser extent) MacOS that the logical time to release it is with the release of a major version of IOS. So if this is happening, it’s likely tied to IOS8, or IOS9, or whenever it’s done.

Apple has to do this. iTunes is positively antiquarian and yelling “get off my lawn” at all of the apps that try to interact with it. but the sheer size and complexity makes this an immensely complex and massive beast of a project; frankly, it dwarfs the complexity of the MacOS9 -> MacOSX transition, except most of is it hidden in the backend infrastructure.

So my view is that the reason you haven’t seen much innovation or update to iTunes or the App Store or iCloud or any of the related systems isn’t that Apple doesn’t care or see the need, but that the project is huge and monolithic, and they aren’t putting more investment in the existing systems than they have to until they can get to a next generation platform/infrastructure. And that’s a huge and hairy project, one likely impacted by the changes they did to IOS 7. So it’s going to happen, sooner or later (and when it does, I hope they have half a brain and make the new system more modular — when I was there, the “online store” for all geos was in fact a single monolithic code base that requires a monolithic repush to production for any significant change to any store in any geo — and that’s why the infamous yellow stickie became so well known to Apple geeks…

I think Apple is up to something here, and when it shows up, I hope it’s worth the wait…